Assume nothing's safe when venturing out on ice-covered lakes

By Mason City Globe Gazette


Two people died on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota after their car broke through the ice Saturday in 10 feet of water. It was the 14th such incident on the lake — this winter.

On Clear Lake, North Iowa’s most popular body of water, we’ve been very lucky this winter.

Despite the number of vehicles going on the lake to ice fish or just for a ride, only two vehicles have broken through the ice and their drivers were able to get out or be rescued without injury.

In one case, the driver was going ice fishing when the vehicle he was driving hit an ice seam. He had climbed out of the vehicle by the time help had arrived.

In the other case, it’s not certain what prompted the driver to venture on to the ice. But his vehicle was about 200 yards east of the McIntosh State Park channel when it broke through. He called for help and rescuers found the vehicle partially submerged. They got the uninjured driver out of the vehicle safely.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials recommend people never drive on frozen bodies of water.

“No matter how cold it gets, ice is never consistent across the entire surface,” said Randy Schnoebelen, DNR law enforcement supervisor. “There are always going to be many imperfections in the ice regardless of the weather conditions and how cold it is.”

Schnoebelen said there are any number of factors that can affect the thickness and stability of ice including freezing and thawing, snow cover, pressure ridges and the wind.

He said weather conditions can also make it difficult to spot places such as pressure ridges where the ice may be weaker. And when people get in trouble, they’re also creating a risk for their rescuers.

General ice safety rules are: 2 inches or less, stay off; 4 inches, ice fishing or other activities on foot; 5 inches, snowmobile or ATV; 8-12 inches, car or small pickup; 12-15 inches, medium truck.

But officials note these guidelines are for new, clear solid ice. Again, many factors can cause ice to become unsafe.

For people who do venture onto the ice, take a life jacket, a section of rope and something to dig into the ice to pull yourself out if you go through.

There’s a lot of winter left, and a lot of fun to be had ice fishing, snowmobiling and other activities.

But check ice thicknesses first, and follow the experts’ advice. Risking a trip onto the ice can be risking your life — and those of others who might have to come to your assistance.


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